The Baltimorean outfit make no direct claims about their fifth album being narrative in its structure, but there can be little question that Arbouretum’s Coming out of the Fog ends in a different place than it began. In a concise but peaceful 39-plus minutes, the four-piece move from “The Long Night” to the closing title-track, “Coming out of the Fog,” which contrasts the darker push of the opener with a soothing melody and soft strum from founding guitarist/vocalist Dave Heumann. With “All at Once, the Turning Weather” positioned near the album’s center, the metaphors may be mixed, but the hopeful movement is nonetheless conveyed over the course of the eight analog-recorded tracks. The Arbouretum lineup that also brought forth 2011’s excellent The Gathering – Heumann, bassist Corey Allender, drummer Brian Carey and Matthew Pierce on keys and extra percussion – has returned and that album’s lush tendency for creative genre defiance has been retained as well, Arbouretum working with patience and grace to walk a line between heavy psychedelia, doom, folk and indie rock(s), and while the album flows easily and naturally, there is a definite structure to Coming out of the Fog as well, each side ending with a quieter piece, be it “Oceans Don’t Sing” or the aforementioned title-track. Something else Arbouretum’s latest shares with its predecessor is a strong launch point – “The White Bird” was one of The Gathering’s high points, and “The Long Night” has an immediate appeal here as well, residing on the heavier end of the band’s sound without unveiling the full tonal crunch that will make itself known on “The Promise” still to come. Heumann begins solo on guitar and introduces the first two lines of the verse vocally before Allender’s bass and Carey’s drums join in. A not-overbearing hook persists in both the verse and the chorus, and Pierce makes his presence felt playing off the guitar in a bluesy solo section as the rhythm section holds fast to the established groove before shifting on a stop back into a final verse, where they end rather than reviving the chorus for a last runthrough – more a testament to the weight of that progression than an oversight – there’s nothing on Coming out of the Fog that feels like a misstep when it comes to songwriting.
Or, for that matter, performance. Heumann gives the music plenty of space to breathe, but when singing, he’s very much at the fore vocally and shows no hesitation in carrying the band when appropriate. On second track “Renouncer,” a dug-in distorted riff is complemented by the vocal line following it, but with the heavier “The Promise,” Heumann is all the more up front in his delivery, and where’s “Renouncer”’s chorus has a gentle bounce, “The Promise” announces its arrival with sharp snare hits from Carey and an insistent, thick rhythm bolstered by Pierce’s added percussion. At no point on Coming out of the Fog are Arbouretum trying to be heavy for heaviness’ sake, instead using aural heft as a tool in their varied arsenal to evoke a specific feeling or add to the overarching atmosphere of the album. Such is the case on “The Promise,” which meets Heumann’s solo with a layer of surprisingly abrasive feedback noise that comes on with two minutes left in the song and remains for the duration of the instrumental jam remaining even as the rest of the music fades out, working to setup the transition into “Oceans Don’t Sing.” A contrast in sound winds up making the flow between the two tracks work, as the side A finale, even at the peak of its build, is given more toward Americana twang, filled out by a pedal steel guitar. At 3:24, when the song opens wider, Pierce’s piano adds to the breadth, and Heumann’s vocal doesn’t quite soar, but is masterful nonetheless in keeping the fragility of earlier in the track. A pair of heavy rockers in “All at Once, the Turning Weather” and “World Split Open” start out side B, the former stretching Arbouretum’s sonic naturalism into psychedelics late into its run while the latter affirms the earthier fuzz of “Renouncer” while setting it to a more active rhythm. Both are exceedingly engaging, especially for listeners from the fuzzier end of the musical spectrum, rife with tonal warmth and a maintained balance of influence that still finds Arbouretum sounding like no one so much as themselves. Take your pick for which is the high point of the album; it could just as easily be any cut on Coming out of the Fog, depending on your mood when you hear it.
They get into a bit of a jam (figuratively and literally) when it comes to moving from “World Split Open” to the closing title-track, and Arbouretum’s solution is to insert the 2:45 instrumental “Easter Island” to bridge that gap. The latter half of “World Split Open” carrying the album’s most sizable weight, “Easter Island” smoothes the way into “Coming out of the Fog” by putting the percussion at the front alongside winding guitar and a strong undercurrent of low end from Allender. Repetitions prove hypnotic, but over its last half-minute or so, “Easter Island” devolves to lurching echoes, perhaps the darkest point of the record before “Coming out of the Fog” provides the serene finale. The slide and piano sounds of “Oceans Don’t Sing” are mirrored at the end of side B, and an ultra-simple lyric from Heumann is both reassuring and memorable. Amid the lighter, cleaner-toned strumming, Allender’s bass gives a warm showing along with Carey’s drums, holding down the straightforward, classic rhythm that the rest of the song is built on, including backing vocals behind Heumann delivering the title line later in the song. Coming out of the Fog ends as unassumingly as it started, with the band making their way out on a sustained final note fading to silence. For anyone who’s never heard Arbouretum before, Coming out of the Fog is probably a stronger album for its consistency of lineup, the band having been able to develop behind Heumann and contribute to the sphere of the resulting output. These songs make a fitting answer to The Gathering, getting closer to the heart of what makes Arbouretum’s sound so rich while also stripping away some of the lushness in favor of rhythmic motion conveyed with the tools at hand. Pierce proves a direct asset in that regard, his percussion and key work adding depth to the arrangements without ever sounding “extra” in the sense of being unnecessary, but the album satisfies on the level of being a showcase for Heumann’s songwriting as well – the thread that runs throughout the diverse emotionality of the album. Between that emotionality and the sense of journey from one end of the record to the other, Coming out of the Fog revels in kinetics even as it attempts to capture a still-life, and its meeting of contrasting elements runs to the very core of what makes it such an intriguing listen.Arbouretum, Arbouretum Coming Out of the Fog, Baltimore, Coming Out of the Fog, Maryland, Thrill Jockey